An object at rest will remain at rest until it is acted upon by some outside agency. In selling, that outside agency is need. That need is exacerbated by some sort of tension. Unless there is tension, you rely 100% on your prospect being ready to buy. At that point, the selling is already done. Sales is not about taking orders, you know how to do that. Sales is about earning orders. Earning orders requires that you stimulate tension.
Tension is the seed of thought that is planted in your prospect’s brain that grows into the idea that their life would be better with your solution than it is right now. Creating this type of tension is what separates the very best salespeople from the ordinary.
Since the 1970s, creating tension has predominantly focused on finding pain. This is wildly effective, but I think it misses a fundamental point. People don’t always make decisions because they are in a bad spot. Many of your potential customers just want to take the next step. Give these six strategies a try to create tension that doesn’t exploit pain points, but rather illuminates a better future state for your prospect.
Create a connection by giving them a reason to listen
Perhaps my good friend and partner on The Why and The Buy Podcast, Christie Walters, said it best. “There can be no tension without first creating a connection.” I cannot agree more. If you’re looking to create some disparity between where your prospect is right now and where they could be if they were to take advantage of your solution, you will be unable to do so if they don’t give you the audience and engagement necessary to listen. Nobody wants a lecture from a stranger. You need to give them a reason to listen.
Cut through the noise with a killer opening line
Your opening line is critical garner attention and engage your prospect. People are constantly bombarded by marketing and sales messages, and it is our job as a salesperson to cut through that noise and set the stage for change. Your opening line needs to be funny, provocative, even off-putting. It needs to be something that will change your prospect’s posture. I call this change in posture “The Lean,” and it is how you will know you have their attention.
Instead of this:
- “Good morning, how are you today?”
- “I don’t mean to bother you, but…”
- “I’d like to talk to you about _____”
- “Hi, I’m <<insert your name>>, have you heard of me?”
- “I’ll bet you’re so glad I called. What a day you’re having, huh?”
- Ask a really great question about _____
You know The Lean when you see it. A smile is cracked, someone sits back in their chair and makes direct eye contact with you, a bewildered prospect tilts their head to the side like a puppy dog that doesn’t quite understand your command… It actually doesn’t matter what the response is. It’s more than an acknowledgment that you exist, and you have their strict attention for half a second because they’re either already interested in what you have to say, or they’re trying to figure you out.
But this is not an invitation to deliver your pitch. The Lean is an opportunity for you to ask a question that will show your prospect you’re interested in them, to get your prospect to think differently, to establish yourself as someone who asks great questions and is worth talking to. Here’s your chance to create some engagement—make it count.
Ask questions that encourage engagement
Engagement is at the crux of the sales process, and it has everything to do with the prospect being interested in hearing what you have to say. I have always felt that if you want to be interesting, you must first be interested.
How many times have you made a sales call with genuine interest in the person you’re talking to, rather than just trying to spit out your message in a compelling manner? Probably not very often. You’ve just managed to get a response of some sort, and the process has already been derailed. Nice going, Sport…
Salespeople have been taught for years that the key to starting sales conversations is asking questions, not just making statements. But what kind of questions should you ask?
I think your line of questioning should be chosen to accomplish three primary goals:
- Teach your prospect something
- Inspire your prospect to think differently
- Uncover your prospect’s needs
Understand what can you teach your prospects
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: your prospects often don’t know what they need to know in order to take the next steps with their business. You’re not only there to make suggestions and provide advice, you’re there to show them the way. A consultative approach to selling demands that you guide your customers along their journey to success.
Where do you start? Consider these questions:
- Are you knowledgeable about what your prospect or customer is passionate about?
- Can you speak fluently in the language of their business or industry?
- Do you understand the challenges that they face, and can you ask questions to help understand their needs in those situations?
- Do you understand what makes you different, and how that difference makes you particularly valuable in their situation?
You can show the prospect something they are not aware of by simply engaging them in something they are already passionate about discussing.
Here’s a pro tip: act like you’ve been there before. Don’t ask questions that relate directly to your product or service: “Do you ever wish you had a vacuum cleaner that could do this?” Rather, engage them around the problem you solve: “Did you know that microscopic dust buildup shortens the life expectancy of your carpet by 20%?” You’re ultimately trying to start a conversation about a subject which you know more about than they do. You’re also framing the conversation in terms of something that is important to them. In other words, you’re giving them a reason to listen to you.
Consider what you can ask that will make your prospect think differently
Now that they’re interested in what you have to say, you can start to challenge their beliefs. Remember, they don’t know what they don’t know. Your potential customer believes that they are managing their business the best way possible. You know there’s a better way, but you can’t simply change your prospect’s mind. You need to present the value of your “better way” in a way that inspires them to change their mind themselves.
Do you regularly ask questions to create tension? Probably not. Most salespeople are people pleasers, and try to make sales by making friends. If you want to change someone’s mind you need to change their beliefs and the way they think. Trust and rapport are vital, but you are not going to accomplish what you need to by simply being agreeable all the time. You earn that trust and then you put it to use when you ask tension-building questions.
Let me make something clear: you don’t “spend” the trust you’ve built by asking tough questions. You actually earn more of it when you demonstrate that you’re not an echo chamber for the customer. You have their best interest in mind, and because of that, they trust you. When you have their best interest in mind, it is your responsibility to show them a better way if you know one exists. It is your job, both the one you’re being paid to do, as well as your role in the relationship, to inspire them to consider new information.
Ask questions that uncover needs
Traditionally, salespeople are taught to ask questions specifically designed to determine what the prospect needs. There’s a problem with that. The problem is, that school of thought assumes that the prospect knows what they need. We’ve already covered that they don’t. Trash the line of questioning that came out of your sales manual, and be genuinely curious about your customer’s goals and plans. Get them talking about what they want to be when they grow up, what they want their business to be when it grows up, what success looks like to them, and what pitfalls they believe may cause failure. When you listen to their answers, you gain a much clearer picture of how your solution fits (or doesn’t).
Without a stimulus, there can be no growth. Without productive tension, there can be no progress. You need to create some in order to be successful in sales, but it doesn’t have to be of the painful variety. Give your prospect the perspective of understanding what can be possible if they’re willing to make a change.